Virginia International Raceway – 16-18 May 2014

After being very cold in Ohio in April, I looked forward to the warmer weather in Virginia in May. I had been there for the same spring event in 2009 and 2011 and it had been consistently sunny and warm, so my fingers were crossed. However, the weather en route was not very encouraging. On Wednesday it was cool and overcast and construction along Interstate 81 contributed to a long day, whereby I reached Chambersburg, PA in about 10 hours instead of 8-1/2. Thursday was no better, with a severe rainstorm just north of Roanoke slowing traffic significantly and making visibility a challenge. It was still raining steadily when I checked into my hotel in Danville. But I met another Porsche driver from North Carolina at the hotel who declared that it would clear by morning, so I remained optimistic. Thursday night I went to the track and got registered and through the technical inspection, so I was all ready for Friday.

I had volunteered to be a mentor for the National Instructor Training program, so Friday morning I attended a meeting and met my instructor candidate. The plan was for me to behave like a new student – after showing the candidate how I instruct – and then allow him to instruct me for three stints. We should have used his car, but it was a BMW race car with a fixed seat and he was a lot shorter than I – so we had to use my car. He was a Middle Eastern gentleman who was very polite and deferential, but too much so. He should have been more assertive and direct in his instruction, to clear up mistakes and improve my driving. I didn’t recommend him as an instructor, but the fellow I evaluated at the end of the day in his new BMW was much better and should do well. The track looked absolutely spectacular, with its newly repaved surface and a fully paved, huge, paddock.

Having been here twice before with the same group, I started bumping into more familiar faces. I spent some time with my instructor from 2009, as well as a club exec from then who was the event organizer in ’09. I also sat with two guys at lunch, one of whom remembered me because his father has a very similar car, with bad track rash on the hood. My neighbours were nice folks from Richmond – a couple who both drive a Honda Prelude but had technical problems today, a single guy (Tom) almost my age with a nicely built 911 race car (but he’s very modest and polite). And a single lady named Beth who’s in the intermediate instructed group in a 996. Tom had never been to VIR before, so I was his resource for knowing where stuff is, etc. There was a guy with a very loud, very fast 65 Mustang which was very cool, but he left.

Saturday was a little….different.  My first stint was at 8:45 and my student’s at 9:45, after he had a classroom session. During mine, I noticed a little bit of stuttering or misfiring and I checked the plug wires afterwards. One might have been a bit loose.

When he began to drive, it was obvious that we were going to have to work on smooth inputs. He jerked the wheel, his hands were at 10 and 2, he braked too late and too sharply and he was on and off the gas up through the esses. Sure enough, I started to feel queasy after 18-19 minutes and I told him to pit. It turned out that he felt nauseous also, which happens, but rarely. So we talked about the reasons for a while and then split up. Next thing I know his car and his extra junk were gone – he never returned.

So it was pretty easy after that. I had two more stints and experienced the misfire again. So I removed the coil and re-wrapped it with electrical tape to avoid it grounding out. Then I noticed that one of the two small wires on it had a loose crimp fitting, which I now believe to have been the cause. I crimped it better and we’ll find out tomorrow. There was a lot of waiting time between stints – due in part to some charity laps – and there would have been a lot of waiting for the BBQ after 5:30, so I left. Those things are OK, but people tend to bunch up in cliques of friendship, leaving the visitors to fend for themselves. Been there, done that – no thanks.

Sunday was a very good day of driving as well as spectating. I really felt comfortable on the track and pushed pretty hard, all the while limiting the engine’s rev’s to about 5500. I’s have to wait until I got home to compare these lap times with my previous best. I had no further trouble with misfiring or stuttering and the car ran great all day. I left after the 2:40 stint since I was starting to feel a bit tired and I had a big day ahead.

Monday morning the drive home was going well until I got to a long steep grade about 5 miles south of Lexington, VA. I was in the right hand lane when all of a sudden I saw great billows of white smoke pouring out from the engine of the truck. I immediately thought the engine had blown or I was driving through some white powder on the road. I quickly moved over onto the very wide shoulder lane and pulled to a stop. As soon as I looked at the front of the truck, it was obvious that I was losing liquid and the smoke was actually steam. Sure enough, when I popped the hood there was steam everywhere and antifreeze was running down the engine and radiator. It didn’t take me long to find the reason – the lower radiator hose had split to a length of about 4 inches. I tried wrapping it with duct tape after drying it off, but the tape blew off after only a half mile or so because I had screwed the radiator cap on too tight, allowing pressure to build.

At this point the shoulder was barely one vehicle wide and I was on a slight uphill grade, but I had no choice but to stop again, since the engine temperature was rising quickly. No  one stopped or even slowed down to see if I needed help, so my only option was to unload the Porsche and drive to the nearest town to look for a replacement hose. At least I had all the tools I would need to effect a repair, assuming that I could find the correct part. The nearest town was Lexington and when I found an Advance Auto Parts store, they didn’t have the hose that I needed. But they phoned around for me and found one in their affiliate store in Staunton – about 35 miles further north. So I bought a couple of hose clamps and gallons of anti-freeze mix from them and drove up to Staunton. I successfully found the second store, bought the hose, gassed up the car and drove back to the truck – a detour of about 130 km. After a couple of hours struggling with the old hose clamps and cutting off the old hose, I was able to complete the repair and get back onto the road. It was more than a little intimidating, lying under the truck with 18 wheelers roaring past at 75 mph mere feet from my head!

At the end of a long day I pulled into a Holiday Inn Select in Gibson, Pa to spend the night. It was a bit expensive, but worth it to get off the road and have a good night’s sleep. I got home Tuesday afternoon about 2 o’clock without further incident. This was a great trip to VIR but next time I could do without the drama! Video is available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28W11dYqEJw&list=UUymvezGbFO-lUNTnDuTSZsQ

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